It’s official. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the US will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, a landmark agreement first signed in 1987 that helped protect the world from nuclear war.
“Russia has jeopardised the United States’ security interests. And we can no longer be restricted by the treaty while Russia shamelessly violates it,” Pompeo said at a press conference this morning.
The treaty banned both the US and Soviet Union, now Russia, from manufacturing ground-based missiles with a range between 500km and 5500km.
The US signalled in December that it was unhappy with Russia’s recent development of certain weapons systems. American officials accused Russia of being in violation of the treaty and announced a 60-day deadline for Russia to become compliant. That 60-day deadline expires tomorrow, but the treaty won’t officially become inactive for another six months.
“Russia continues to deny that its missile system is non-compliant and violates the treaty,” Pompeo said. “Russia’s violation puts millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk. It aims to put the United States at a military disadvantage, and it undercuts the chances of moving our bilateral relationship into a better direction.”
Pompeo claimed that Russia can still destroy the missiles and launchers that the US says are in violation of the treaty, and there may be a chance within the next six months to revive the agreement. Pompeo thanked America’s NATO allies and insisted that this would make everyone safer.
“When an agreement is so brazenly disregarded and our security is so openly threatened, we must respond. Russia has refused to take any steps to return real and verifiable compliance over these 60 days. The United States will, therefore, suspend its obligations under the INF treaty on February 2,” Pompeo said.
But Russia doesn’t agree that they’re in violation of the treaty. In fact, the Russian government insists that this was America’s plan all along.
“In general, the Americans’ reluctance to hear any arguments, their reluctance to conduct any substantive negotiations suggests that the decision to dismantle the treaty was made by Washington a long time ago,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian news outlet TASS earlier today.
China is not a party to the INF Treaty, and many analysts speculate that the US was looking for any excuse to exit the treaty so that it could develop missiles to counter any potential threat from Beijing.
But America’s military allies in Asia oppose the destruction of the treaty. Japanese officials have said repeatedly over the past few months that they hoped the treaty could be saved.
“The only ones applauding the decision to tear up the INF Treaty are the nuclear weapons manufacturers, eagerly anticipating the kickoff of Cold War II,” Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told Gizmodo by email.
“Trump last week began building new nuclear missiles, and Putin has said he will do the same, so we now have a six-month window before the treaty officially dies.”
Russia made a big show of its newest laser weapons system the day after the US announced that it might withdraw from the treaty. Russian military leaders said at the time that if the US did withdraw from the INF, “we won’t leave it without a response”.
“You as military professionals must understand that the target for Russian retaliation won’t be US territory but the countries where the intermediate-range missiles are deployed,” Russian General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov said on December 5.
From both the old Soviet Union’s perspective and Russia’s perspective today, the INF treaty limited America’s missile strike capability from positions in Europe. For instance, America’s bases in Germany are about 2100km from Moscow, precisely within the range of the ground-based systems that were banned under the INF.
The US currently has nuclear weapons in the countries of NATO allies such as Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, but those would all need to be delivered to a target via aeroplane in the event of war.
The US could now theoretically develop ground-based nuclear missile delivery systems that might sit in those countries, always ready to strike Moscow or other targets in Asia without needing to scramble airborne bombers.
While the US State Department didn’t allude to its possible intention to pull out of the treaty until December, President Donald Trump has been signalling his intentions since at least October.
“Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years,” Trump said after a rally on 20 October 2018. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.”
“Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and they say, ‘Let’s all of us get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons,’ but if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Trump continued. “So we have a tremendous amount of money to play with with our military.”
The American intelligence community warned this week in its annual report to Congress that Russia and China are “more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s”, and that the relationship between the two countries is “likely to strengthen in the coming year as some of their interests and threat perceptions converge”.
But President Trump took issue with the reports from his intelligence advisers, saying that their worldview didn’t match his assessment of the greatest threats against the US.
He also seemed very angry in the Oval Office yesterday that top intelligence officials didn’t mention any threat of terrorism coming across the US-Mexico border, Trump’s racist obsession for which he recently shut down the US government for 35 days.
Even experts who mostly blame Russia for the disintegration of the INF treaty believe that it’s a dumb move for the US to tear it up. Many think the Trump regime is simply getting played by Russia.
“Russia, which has violated the INF Treaty, deserves most of the blame for the collapse of this important agreement,” James Acton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a statement.
“Moscow, however, has played its hand skillfully. As a result, it is the United States, which committed the smaller sin of failing to explore creative options to save the treaty, which will likely attract the lion’s share of international criticism.”
Only time will tell, but President Trump, who has met repeatedly with Russian president Vladimir Putin without any Americans taking notes and has been investigated by the FBI over his ties to Russia, insists that he knows what he’s doing.
“I accomplished the military,” Trump said in the Oval Office yesterday. Indeed you did, Mr President. Indeed you did.